Digital Book World 2018, this fall in Nashville (October 2-4; Music City Center) will feature 70-80 companies exhibiting on the DBW 2018 Exhibit Hall floor.
One of those companies is Readercoin, a company which AS A FULL DISCLAIMER I was asked earlier this year to serve as a member of their Advisory Board. This is a rarity for me, I don't seek out things like this nor do I normally accept them.
I said yes to supporting them in this way, because it is obvious they have a novel idea on how to improve book promotion, improve the analytics publishers have available to them on how people are reading and consuming their works, and in the process, improve society by encouraging more people to read.
What follows is an insightful interview with Readercoin co-founder Geoff Cook, a very successful entrepreneur who started Readercoin in response to writing his own (fiction) novel, paying a lot of money to promote it to various existing options, and having none of them work.
So he, and his brother Dave Cook, invented a better one.
Meet him, and Readercoin, at Digital Book World 2018...where all attendees will receive 200 Readercoin simply by being there! More on that later. Enjoy.
Q&A With Geoff Cook, co-founder of Readercoin
1) You have been a very successful entrepreneur. Share with us a little bit about your background.
I started my first company in a Harvard dorm in 1997. It was an e-commerce website that I grew to $5 million in revenue and sold to The Thomson Corporation in 2002. I worked there for a couple of years, and then started my second company myYearbook in 2005. I sold myYearbook for $100 million in 2011.
Since then, I’ve been running a public company The Meet Group (NASDAQ: MEET). We are working on bringing livestreaming to dating apps.
I’ve been fortunate along the way to be a recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the Philadelphia region. Today, I also serve as a Mentor at Princeton University's Keller Center to help other budding entrepreneurs as part of their eLab accelerator program.
2) Your story involves a familiar tale of spending significant dollars to publicize and market your own book, only to discover familiar avenues of doing so don't work very well. Describe that and some of the outlets you used, which didn't work as well as you had hoped.
I started telling my daughter, Maddy, who was then in kindergarten, a story on the 20-minute drive to school every morning. The story was about a little girl named Veronica who lived on a volcano. Maddy couldn’t get enough of the Veronica stories, and I quickly learned that telling a 20-minute story every morning is hard.
I occasionally told a story I liked, and I would write it down. Three years and three hundred pages later, I had finished my first book Veronica and the Volcano. I published it on Createspace, Audible, and Ingramspark. That’s how I learned what many authors have discovered long ago: Writing is a hole to throw money into.
I spent more than $5000 on giveaways to reach approximately 250 readers, of which far less than 10% rated the book and far less than one-quarter read it. I learned that it is impossible to giveaway enough books to generate sustained demand for your story on Amazon.
If you give away Kindle books, you pay less per copy BUT you get far less readers too and far fewer reviews, and of course Amazon chooses to give you zero insight into how many giveaway copies have actually been read (because they know that no one reads Kindle giveaway copies).
So I looked into audio. After all, audio is the fastest growing segment in the book industry. It’s also, unfortunately, a terrible investment for just about every indie author. The cost of audiobook creation is more than $1500. Amazon all-but controls audiobook production via its ACX service. Authors are told by Amazon to find a professional narrator, and to be sure, Amazon makes it impossible to self-record your own audiobook by forcing a high-level of technical knowledge. They also give the author zero input on pricing, so you’re audiobook is now priced at $14.99, the same price as James Franco reading Slaughterhouse-Five.
The end result is you spend a lot of time, a lot of money, and you get no sales. Only ego and a willingness to burn money (both of which I apparently have) would make an indie author put their book on Audible, and that’s too bad, because audio enables you to reach people who will never otherwise read.
All I wanted was for someone to read my story, and to have a chance for it to generate a following, and I found no service in the marketplace that could promise that. Amazon gouges the indie author by pairing world-class distribution with woefully inadequate AND overpriced promotion.
3) In your own words, what is Readercoin?
Readercoin pays people to read and allows them to spend their Readercoin on rewards or charity.
You may be familiar with Sweatcoin or Charitymile, both are very popular fitness apps, the first pays you to run, the second allows you to donate to charity for every mile you run. It occurred to me that all this generation needs is incentive to read, just as they need incentive to run :) Mental wellbeing is not enough. People need tangible rewards!
Jay Scott, who runs the $150+ million child cancer research charity Alex's Lemonade Stand and is on our advisory board, said he was interested in Readercoin because he always wished there was a way for people who can't bike or run to donate to charity. Readercoin provides that.
From an author and publisher perspective, Readercoin is designed to solve the biggest issue I faced when I decided to self-publish: promotion. Authors should not be stuck doing pointless Goodreads giveaways. Readercoin pays authors to promote their books and quantifies down to the minute the amount of reading/listening time they received.
Imagine knowing how many people who start Chapter 4, finish it. Imagine seeing your reading and listening time go up by thousands of minutes each day as more people discover you. That’s what Readercoin is like for authors.
4) How is the launch of Readercoin going?
It’s going particularly well. This chart I think tells the story.
The average user is listening and reading for 2 hours a day.
5) Readercoin's website speaks of the concept of a "virtuous startup." What is that, and why do you think being a virtuous startup better positions Readercoin to be successful?
The virtuous startup idea came from a talk I gave at Princeton University in April, in which I suggested an ideation framework for generating business ideas. It was meant as a response to the LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman, and his 7-Deadly-Sin investing framework, in which he only invests in human vice, because only those businesses can get big.
Of course, Hoffman is generally right … but it’s destroying society. Today’s best and brightest create apps and put to work armies of engineers, psychologists, and data scientists to increase the time people spend in those apps. The result is we are lonelier, existing in an echo chamber of own making.
We check our phones 100+ times a day and spend 3+ hours a day on apps. The most successful ones, like Facebook, are designed to fracture our attention, to distract us at scale by delivering empty calories … social candy … that keeps up coming back. The goal of these companies is to come close to meeting a core human need, without meeting it.
A virtuous startup also exploits human vice, but with a twist. It pairs one of the deadly sins with one of the heavenly virtues. It exploits all the same tricks of the product trade, but only in pursuit of a fundamental good. And I believe storytelling is fundamentally good. Study after study shows reading makes us live longer, reduces stress, staves off Alzheimer’s disease, promotes empathy, and makes us less likely to die.
Readercoin converts the excess time that is today spent on empty social calories and converts it to time spent reading, in return for rewards and charitable giving. We pay people to read, causing an increase in total reading time. In so doing, we help storytellers find an audience and perfect their craft.
6) Why do you require an audio version of every book on Readercoin?
There’s tremendously more demand for audio than for text. We are seeing ten-to-1 more audio minutes than reading minutes. You can consume audio wherever you are … on the run, in the car, even at the office.
I believe every book should be available to be read OR listened to. To deliver that, we make audiobook production easy and free for the author. We created a mobile tool so you can record your own audio book. We believe there is magic in an author speaking her own work that overpriced narrators can't capture.
What’s more, readers WANT to hear from the author—just think about bookstore readings, no one gets up and leaves because the author coughs in the middle of a sentence or trips over a word. The production values on today’s audiobooks are unnecessarily high. A good, easy-to-listen-to audiobook can be created using nothing more than the supercomputer in your pocket … your phone.
7) What are you doing to bring more authors to Readercoin?
We are incenting authors to join Readercoin. For the time being, we will pay 5000 Readercoin, or $50, to authors on Wattpad, Amazon, etc. who put their content on Readercoin. Authors will also earn 1 Readercoin for every 10 minutes anyone spends reading their work. Authors can join us here.
8) If you had to identify one session within the Digital Book World 2018 program you're looking forward to the most, which would it be?
I’m interested in the pre-conference workshop on Alexa Skill Building, as well as hearing Dave Isbitski from Amazon during the conference program.
More and more, we will be interacting with technology via voice, and I am interested in how Amazon is pitching this to publishers and authors.
9) In five years time, what goals do you hope Readercoin is able to accomplish? What longer-term milestones matter most to you and the team?
In five years, I hope Readercoin is the largest promotional platform for authors in search of an audience. I hope we will have increased the amount of total time that the world spends reading.